Digitise your Museum and Archival Collections effectively

Posted on: 24 October, 2017 by capture

Museums, Libraries, Archives and Galleries... also known as the GLAM sector! These organisations often hold archives of content that need to be transformed into digital formats. These could be illustrations, prints, documents or material like sound or film archives. Below is some advice that will ensure the whole process is effective.

Make a plan and stick to it

You need to start at the end! Ask yourself, what do you need to achieve? If you have this clear from the outset you can't go wrong.  For example, if you want to simply preserve materials for the future, that may take you down a particular path. If you wanted to create an online archive accessible to the public, however, then this might involve entirely different methods.

Do you have an inhouse resource with the necessary skill set?

Do your staff have the right skills to carry out the project internally? Digitisation projects are often time-consuming and expensive. Ask yourself, should the project be outsourced to specialists?  If so, you will need to make sure your budget can meet these extra costs.

Define your audience

If you know who will be viewing your digital content, then you can plan accordingly. An online archive aimed at schoolchildren will be vastly different in tone and depth to one aimed at scholars, even if the material that resides in it is the same.

Determine the condition of the original materials

Is your material delicate? Is it in need of restoration before it can be digitised? Perhaps it is robust and can simply be scanned in and catalogued. Analogue video tapes, for example, may contain immense value or cultural significance of the 1966 Englands Word Cup victory, or interviews with historical figures. However, content becomes stuck on formats which are obsolete and can only be used on old machines that continue to age. Spare parts are hard to come by and some digitisers are forced to cannibalise old machines to keep going. So it is not just the physical tape itself which may be at risk. These are important factors to keep in mind.

Consider your metadata and keywording plans

It is very important to ensure that there is a metadata scheme in place from the beginning.  Metadata is industry jargon, but all it really means is that there is an electronic “index card” embedded in the content which has information like who created it, copyright owner, a description, keywords, date and other essential information.

What data is going to be added to the project? Without searchable metadata which conforms to the standards set out by various organisations, the digitised material may be of little use to researchers. This may also add time to the project. For example, if the photos or prints to be scanned have handwritten captions on the back, typing them in may be cumbersome, especially if they are faded or hard to read.

Finally... best of luck with your project and don't forget to enjoy perusing your wonderful archival collections.


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